Congratulations and Thank You, Damien Memorial School Class of 2017!

I didn’t have time to prepare for this past school year. Avery got sick during the second weekend of last July and, with her health fluctuating, would remain in the NICU for four weeks before being moved into a regular care room for three more weeks. She finally made it home during the first week of September, but by then I had been teaching for a full month while sleeping at Kapiolani during the work week.

This was the first school year in over a decade during which I taught all-new students. During the previous years, I taught the Junior Honors group, some of whom would become my AP English Literature Class. Back then, there was always a sort of built in familiarity and comfort that started in that class and filtered throughout the rest. But that didn’t happen this year. I didn’t know my new students and so I didn’t want to tell them what was going on with Avery because I guess I didn’t want that to be the icebreaker; “My name is Mr. Higa. My daughter is super-sick. She might die. I don’t know. But here’s your syllabus for the class.” It seemed absurd, surreal, to come to work like usual, then leave it to return to the highly unusual. Eventually, I told my students about what was going on in my personal life I brought candy to class to celebrate Avery’s homecoming. The thing I remember most is that many of my students had no idea what I was talking about. They asked why the candy. I told them. They seemed puzzled. “I thought I told you guys,” I said. “Not us,” some of them said. But I know I told them. Did I not tell all of my classes? Just one or two of them? I didn’t know then and I suppose I’ll never know. It was a crazy time.

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The Damien Memorial School Class of 2017

Class of 2017,
The thing I will remember most is how down for each other you all were. You organized get-togethers that were open to the entire class. You showed up at Homecoming games, senior nights, playoff games, and championship games. You sat in my classroom for hours and made signs for each other. You made it so fun to be a Monarch sports fan this year. You brainstormed the crazy idea for a class luau during 10 minutes of English class and it actually became a thing, a real thing. I want to be clear: the way you held on to each other is not common, and it was the very best trait of your class.

I thought the 2015-2016 school year was the most challenging epoch of my life and it was. Until this year. I thought about quitting every single day of the the first quarter. It was the emotional strain of dealing with my daughter’s illness. I guess when your kid is fighting for her life, everything else seems stupid or meaningless. I wanted to give up. But you didn’t give up on me. Truth be told, I’m a little salty that Brother Casey made your tendencies toward service and community a prominent feature of his speech. This is the exact spot where I was going to get there. I guess I will just say this instead:

It is not always easy to be kind. Caring is harder than not caring. It inherently means to make yourself vulnerable. If you ever wonder whether your acts of kindness and of service matter, please know they do. Your kindness toward and patience with me – when I was bitter and exhausted and miserable and wallowing hopelessness – helped buoy me. You didn’t even know me but you did it anyway. It was a reversal of roles; you did for me what I am supposed to do for you.

I wish I could have gotten to know you sooner and more quickly. If I have one regret, it is that I never had the chance to teach all of you. All the same, I wish each and every one of you the very best in the days and nights ahead of you. If you are sad it is because you are a very close-knit class and because it is easier to mourn a past you can see perfectly rather than eagerly anticipate the hazy uncertainty of change. But didn’t you feel that way at the end of the 8th grade, too? Look at you now.

Congratulations!

Your friend,

Phil Higa
Damien Memorial School, 1998

Voldemort is Dead! Long Live Voldemort!

It is the end of an era.

I bought my Asus laptop in the summer of 2012. Our relationship began poorly; I had to send it back to the manufacturer for repairs less than a month into the honeymoon phase. Once I got it back, however, it was a reliable machine. I named it Voldemort because, you know, VOLDEMORT IS BACK! For nearly 5 years it did whatever I asked of it.

1Truth be told, I love this computer. Writing this blog entry is the last thing I will do on it before wiping its memory. The rubberized typing surface began to peel away a few years ago and – save for a remote spots – has been worn away to reveal a smooth plastic surface that maybe they should have gone with from the start. The numbers from 3-7 stick, as do the letters Q, X, and Z. I can’t turn the trackpad off and it’s so sensitive that any kind of light grazing moves my cursor and drives me insane. The result is an increase in an already embarrassingly high number of typos and slower typing times. Worst of all, Voldemort makes a loud rattling noise that comes and goes (though once it comes, it sticks around for a while). It is so bad that anyone who came within five feet of my desk would ask “What is that?” “Huh?” I’d say. “That noise,” they’d say. “Oh, that’s my computer,” I’d say. They’d reply with commentary ranging from “Oh” to “Yikes!” to “Maybe it’s time to start looking for a new computer.”

2I usually do hours of research before making a purchase like this. I would have looked for the best PC by price and features. I would have narrowed it down to 2 or 3. I would have checked multiple sites for the best price. I didn’t really do any of that. I gave in instead. My coworker (and former student!) Wayland suggested a Macbook. He had his for 8 years before it died on him. He brought his shiny toy into work yesterday and began setting it up. “I’m a PC guy,” I said. “I was, too,” he said. “But then I bought three computers in the same time that all my friends were using the same Macbooks,” he continued. “Just do it,” he said, possibly unaware that that’s Nike’s slogan rather than Apple’s. But eh. A baseball writer I follow on Twitter recently suggested the same to a user who questioned him. I messaged him for more info and he basically said the same: he’d had his for 4 years, no problems, super-low maintenance, no regrets. So, yeah, I picked myself up an end-of-school-year-present. Lynnette said it was OK.

Voldemort,
Of all the computers I have owned – all the way back to the 8 GB Dell I used throughout college – you were the best and lasted the longest. Perhaps I might get a few months or a year more out of you, but I’d rather remember you the way you were (and also, I’d like not to get caught off-guard and lose a bunch of stuff). Thanks for all of the quizzes and tests I’ve created with you; five years worth of blog posts; the wrestling and movie shows; and countless hours of Internet browsing. For this and more, you have earned this blog’s ultimate honor:

Cole Boy and the Gravy Boat on the Verge of Summer

We took Cole and Avery to their 18-month check up a couple of weeks ago. I snapped some pictures, then totally forgot about them. Here they are with obligatory commentary, of course.

3This shouldn’t come as a surprise at all, but do you know what Cole and Avery like more than anything else in the world (non-food category)? They like when Lynnette and I put them down and let them run about an open space. Back when we first got them shoes, they’d curl up their toes and ball up their feet in an attempt to prevent us from affixing the footwear. Now? They know it means we’re going to let them run around, so they splay out their chubby feet and toes and let us slide the slippers right on. But, because nothing with these two can be simple, they were drawn most to the electrical outlets. They also seemed to delight in dropping their snacks on the floor, then eating them.

2Avery is quickly emerging as the ringleader of trouble. She and Cole are not partners in crime as there is an obvious hierarchy forming. It was Avery, for example, who first decided to climb into the shelving under the patient’s table in the room. It was also Avery who decided to open the cabinet where the diaper cloths are stored; she was also the first to liberate said diaper clothes by throwing them all over the floor. When Lynnette and I burst into the room, Avery quickly and quietly jogged out of the room to leave Cole under the bus holding the bag with red hands. If Cole doesn’t wise up soon, he’s going to be the fall guy for a whole bunch of Avery’s tomfoolery.

1Cole is a nice, sweet guy (he gets that from me, obviously). He enjoys simple things (ditto), like running with both arms behind his back (not me). Recently, Avery’s been ripping his pacifier from his mouth, then putting the WHOLE THING into her mouth. Cole’s first reaction was to hit Avery, to push her away. Lynnette and I have repeatedly told him such behavior is not allowed, and he’s listened. But now he’s at a disadvantage. When Avery pull her run-by pacifier heists, all Cole does is hold out both arms in an attempt to keep her away from his precious binky. It never works. We usually get to Avery only after she’s turned the binky into chewing gum. She then throws herself on the floor and fake-cries like she’s the victim.

But since we’re here, I’d like to share with you all a story. A week or two ago my mother-in-law told me a story when I got home from work. Apparently Cole and Avery were in their bedroom and both were quiet. That is the loudest signal of trouble in our home and the homes of families of young children everywhere. According to my mother-in-law, one or both of the twins had unloaded doot pebbles from their diapers (she checked both and neither had remnants). By the time she showed up at the party, Cole and Avery had been stomping the pebbles into the carpet. My mother-in-law – who is a few steps away from sainthood – laughed as she told me about scrubbing them down, and cleaning the carpet. She told me about which pieces of laundry I should probably wash (all of them), and which blankets and sheets I should wash (all of them). So yeah. That’s where we are.

Relationship Goals

Our family celebrated my cousin Lindy’s engagement today with a wedding shower/fiesta/eat-a-thon. Lynnette was in charge of the games and one of the contests she selected was the Newlywed Game. Lindy and her fiance Lars were obligated to play, as were Lindy’s parents. The final couple ended up being my mom and dad. Man, they struggled.

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My mom, wishing she had listened to my dad once over the last 38 years.

My dad had to answer the first five questions, the first of which was in regards to my mom’s favorite color. Now, my brothers, Tanya, Lynnette, and Madison all know the answer is “barley”. My dad wrote brown – which is close, and considering my dad is an pack-of-8-crayons kind of guy, probably should have earned a point – but impossibly, my mom said “black”. My dad was flummoxed when asked about mom’s favorite restaurant. My mom sat in front of him, facing away. Her face contorted constantly. “How I am supposed to know her favorite restaurant if she doesn’t even know what it is?” my dad argued. My mom laughed and nodded. So did every other male in the room except for Cole and Declan.

My parents had a hard time remembering their first date, and the first time they kissed. When my mom and dad drew a blank on the latter question, my aunt Jess blurted out “Longs Drugs parking lot!” “Eww!” I said as I pretended to walk out of the room. “Coulda been,” my mom said. I don’t know if she was joking. But, I mean, it doesn’t matter, does it? After a rough opening round, my mom said “What matters is that the three of you are here now,” while gesturing to Matty, Paul, and me. It was a really poor justification, but she’s right.

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Back then my ears were the same size they are now.

I wonder what my parents see when they look at their three sons and their four grandchildren. I think about how the time in my life has flown by and wonder if they don’t feel that strain exponentially.

As they tried to recall the answers to Lynnette’s questions, a cool thing started to happen. My mom and dad began to walk each other through their memories. They rattled off names and places at the same time. They smiled and laughed. “Oh, yeah, yeah,” my dad said. “That’s right!” my mom said. Obviously, I can’t remember what my parents were like before they had children and my mom developed undiagnosed OCD, and my dad became a full-time, year-round baseball coach. I don’t get to seem them do this very often. It’s so cool. There’s pettiness, inside jokes, and inequality baked in to the way they communicate. Of course, they remind me of Lynnette and me.

After those first few questions, my mom seemed embarrassed and sad that she couldn’t remember the answers. I felt bad for her but I didn’t blame her. I know I’m going to forget, too. There are many things I already have. Twenty years or so ago, I had a really good memory. I memorized entire dialogues from movies. I had committed to memory bands’ discography and the tracklisting for each album. I knew every starter at every position, the starting pitchers, and the closer for every single Major League Baseball team. In college, I often used this information to test my own sobriety. I would ask a friend to name a team and a position, then I would respond with the player’s name. When I stopped being able to do this, I would admit that perhaps I was drunk. Then immediately ask for another team and another position. I can no longer do any of these things. I want to say that’s because I don’t need to – but I didn’t need to then, either.

My mom and dad are clowns. Either they hid it from us while we lived under their roof, or it is a recent development that began after we moved out. I love them more now than ever. A lot of that is because I’m a parent, but a lot of it is also that they aren’t trying to tell me how to live me life. I see them as people, as Al and Karen, two crazy-ass kids who had a kid in their teens, decided to triple down with two more, and lived to tell the tale. Well, the parts they remember, anyway. One day, I hope I have what they do.

’90s Song of the Week: Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live”

“Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head. The lives we make never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead.” -Chris Cornell, “The Day I Tried to Live”

2I don’t know that I have a favorite Soundgarden song. “The Day I Tried” to live is among several of the band’s tracks – including “Fell on Black Days”, “Outshined”, “Burden in my Hand”, and “Blow Up the Outside World” – that I would use to keep myself awake while driving home after a long night/morning of being in my early twenties. The song came off Superunknown, the 1994 record that catapulted the band into mainstream consciousness. But I guess this is all beside the point. Chris Cornell, frontman of Soundgarden, was found dead this morning of an apparent suicide. He was 52.

Cornell joins Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Scott Weiland in the exclusive but seemingly ever-expanding club of frontmen who have died way too soon. This morning I wrote that Eddie Vedder is the only one left of this loosely affiliated group. It’s insane. Brian Johnson, Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley have all outlived the generation of singers they sired. This isn’t how any of it is supposed to work and yet here we are.

As a teenager the lyrics at the top of this entry caught my attention mostly because by then I was already kind of socially awkward and the first line articulated a very specific problem I had. Everything sounded better in my head. For some reason the words just flopped like a limp fish the second my tongue gave them life. Nevermind the violent, erratic imagery of the rest of the song; it’s like Chris Cornell knew exactly how my disappointment felt, what it tasted like. Even the title – the word “tried” implies failure – reeks of deflation. The whole song is an anti-climax and it is highlighted by the ultimate and inevitable letdown brusquely mentioned in the second line. We’re all going to die no matter what we do while alive. In light of Cornell’s suicide…I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. Did he come to that conclusion in real life too? It’s pointless to wonder.

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2010: Me, 2-year old Madison, Daniel, Chris, and Darnell. They were my rock/metal friends in high school. Time is a hell of a thing.

But Soundgarden – and in particular Cornell’s voice – is an indelible part of the soundtrack of my youth. I can’t tell you how many times I saw faces go droopy during the “Black Hole Sun” video as it looped on MTV. My group of friends who preferred rock music to rap (mid-late ’90s) listened to Soundgarden and Nirvana and Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam and Metallica and Megadeth as the ’90s faded into a bunch of bands with numbers in their names, rap-metal outfits, and 12-piece groups with horn sections. When I hear the bands named above, I think of my high school self but I also think of my friends whom I haven’t seen in quite some time. I miss them, like straightforward rock music.

Cornell somehow seemed like the most honest of his contemporaries Cobain, Staley, and Weiland had storied substance abuse problems and other issues which at times outstripped the content of their art. Cornell wailed about ending the world and black days with Soundgarden, but sang of ghosts and sunshowers and the Billie Jean everyone knows as a solo artist. His appearance in Pearl Jam 20 comes off as sincere and heartfelt. And none of this even accounts for his time with Audioslave. Rest in peace, Chris. Thank you for singing the hell out of my teenage years and for allowing me to harmonize with you as we passed Fort Shafter, Moanalua Gardens, and crept down Red Hill.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day 2017: The Kids Explain Memmy

We ate brunch with Lynnette’s family at 100 Sails in the Waikiki Prince. Instead of being seated in the restaurant, our party of 14 was set up in a small room between the restaurant and the ballroom. It was perfect. The twins could run around without bothering anyone but us. It won’t surprise you that I ate too much. I spent 2:30-4:30 in a food-induced coma. I accomplished my mission of celebrating Mother’s Day by eating so much that I look pregnant. It’s late in the pregnancy. I have labor pains. I will end this metaphor now. Instead, I will let my kids tell you why Lynnette is an incredible mother.

1Mom is an awesome mom because she makes time for all of her kids, even though two of them don’t want to wait their turn. Also, she lets me pinch her leg during the scariest moments of Harry Potter. She a really good help with math; she helps me with homework. She helps me find mistakes in it. She’s really sweet, um, maybe too sweet (*makes too sweet hand gesture*). 

We were watching this scary nun thing in my iPad, and right before I started it, she said it would bring up viruses. When I used to do Lego, she would always put the sticker on because you (me) and me always have the unsteady hand. One time I tried to stick it on and it looked hideous. 

You’re the sweetest mom there can be. Happy Mother’s Day!

2Mom the best mom because Dr. Lance said I have to pau my binky already, but mom still lets me have my binky. That’s why she’s the best.

Mom knows when I gotta go number 2, I like to hide in the corner between Avery’s crib and the honey cabinet. She leaves me alone over there and then when I’m pau, she wipes my buns and puts on clean diaper that I like a lot.

I don’t know why I do it but when it’s time to eat sometimes I get fussy and don’t want to eat the stuff mom made for me to eat. But she is always patient and finds new things for me to eat and I don’t go hungry because my mom is patient not like my dad who just dumps 6 things on my tray and lets me pick whatever I want. Or he buys french fries and tosses them to me from the table. I stand on the couch and lean on the back of the couch and mom scolds dad that me and Avery aren’t dogs, but Abby – who is a dog – steals my french fries.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mem. I don’t like when you only hold Avery.

3If you must know, I’m my Memmy’s favorite. She tells me all the time but not to tell you guys, but I’m telling you anyway because Mem is too nice to tell you.

So that’s number 1 is Mem is nice. She sings me to sleep every night with “Part of Your World” which is from a movie that I have never seen, but it sounds nice even if Mem can’t sing so good, it’s the thought that counts and her thoughts are that I’m her fave. She makes Mad-Mad or Daddy put Cole to sleep – which is lame.

My mommy loves to dress me up in pretty clothes that match and she scolds Mad-Mad that her clothes don’t match. I love Mem so much that if Daddy tries to carry me, I arch my back and scream so that I hurt Daddy’s feelings but also so that Mom knows I love her best. We’re best friends because we like to troll Daddy. 

Mem, you were there for me on the worst night of my life and I know you will always be there for me. I love you. But not as much as food in general. Maybe in time. 

Disappointment With Extra Frosting

Lynnette was hellbent on getting her free Mini-bon Cinnabon for Nurses’ Week. We stopped by the Ka Makana Ali’i location today. I asked her to pick me up “some” for dessert tonight. The bag sat on the island in the kitchen all afternoon. I was at the dinner table watching Fast Five (featuring the strongest, most durable tow cables and equipment known to man) when Lynnette asked if I would like for her to heat up my Cinnabon. “That would be great,” I said. A few moments later, the microwave beeped.

21Obviously, this picture was taken after the whole ordeal, but this is what Lynnette looked like as she sauntered over to the dinner table. “Here’s some extra frosting if you want,” she said. She opened the container.

I would have paid serious money for someone to have caught my facial expression on camera. I had a toothless grin stretched across my mouth, but my jaw dropped when I saw the sadness awaiting me. “It’s a mini-bon!” Lynnette shouted, keen to my disappointment. I started laughing. Hard. “Who ate my Cinnabon!” I shouted. Lynnette laughed too. “I’m so sorry! It’s a mini-bon!” she kept saying over and over. I tried to talk through the laughter. “I haven’t been this disappointing in anything is such a long time,” I said. Tears were running from the corners of my eyes.

I know you had to be there, but I’m still laughing about it. I looked forward to this treat since the afternoon. I was ready to eat my Cinnabon piece-by-piece from the outside in. And then I found out that there wasn’t much of an outside or an inside. I think it’s exacerbated by the fact that we drove a little out of the way to get Lynnette her free piece, and this is ultimately how it turned out. I already know it’s going to be one of those things that live forever. Every time we get a Cinnabon, memories of abject disappointment will fill me with laughter.